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Words used to indicate tempo on a piece of music must be taken with a grain of something, if not salt. Take “Spiritoso,” for example. I was told it meant “spirited.” Un uh. It’s a joke, baby. Where’s the joke? you might ask, when it looks like a regulation piece in 4/4 time. If it’s by Clementi look a little harder.

A gentleman flutist in my chamber music class once put it this way: “You mean the point isn’t to show up on time for duty on the first beat of every bar?”

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